Federal fishing regulations aren’t always easy to figure out, especially when you start to dig deeper than size, season, and bag limits. In this series of articles, we hope to clarify some commonly misunderstood regulations and possibly even shed some light on things you didn’t know you were allowed to do.

Today, we’ll focus on recreational aggregate bag limits. Most anglers know that a bag limit is the number of each fish species that you, as an individual, are allowed to harvest per day or possess. Aggregate bag limits are slightly different because they include several species of fish instead of just one. To complicate things even more, sometimes species in an aggregate also have their own bag limit.

We’re aware that these aggregate bag limits tend to cause some confusion, but the good news is that they allow you more freedom to mix and match the fish you bring home for dinner.  Most commonly, anglers believe that the aggregate bag limits apply to more species than they actually do and this probably leads some of you to retain less fish than you’re actually allowed to keep. We regularly hear that fishermen are under the impression that they’re only allowed to keep 20 reef fish total because we have a reef fish aggregate bag limit of 20. Keep reading to learn why that’s not entirely true.

In the federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico we have four different aggregate bag limits: Snappers, Reef Fish, Groupers, and Jacks. This table outlines the species in each aggregate and shows species specific bag limits within those aggregates:

Here’s the link to the page on our website with this information: https://gulfcouncil.org/fishing-regulations/aggregate-bag-limits/. Also, our regulations page has the aggregate bag limits color coded at the far-right side of the species table: https://gulfcouncil.org/fishing-regulations/federal/

At one time, you’re allowed to keep a total of all the aggregates, in addition to species that are not contained within aggregates. If you add up all the fish you can keep: 10 fish from the snapper aggregate, plus 20 fish from the reef fish aggregate, plus four fish from the grouper aggregate, plus five jacks, plus your individual bag limit of red snapper, hogfish, greater amberjack, cobia, Spanish mackerel, and king mackerel (assuming the seasons are open), you would be allowed to have over 40 fish per angler per day. Below are a few extra scenarios to consider:

Fishing for Snapper: You can keep 10 snapper species in the snapper aggregate. For mutton snapper, there is a species-specific bag limit of five fish per angler. So, you can have any combination of 10 of the snapper within the aggregate as long as you don’t have more than 5 mutton. Since red snapper does not fall within the snapper aggregate bag limit, it doesn’t count towards the 10-fish bag limit. However, it does have its own individual bag limit of two fish per person per day, so you could keep your limit of two red snapper in addition to the 10 snappers included in the snapper aggregate. Vermilion and lane snapper are part of the 20-reef fish aggregate bag limit. So, if you’re fishing for snapper, you could keep a total of: two red snapper, 10 of the snappers in the snapper aggregate, and a total of 20 vermillion and lane snapper, of which 10 of those could be vermilion snapper.

Fishing for Reef Fish: You can keep a combined total of 20 of the species considered to be part of the reef fish aggregate. Vermilion snapper and gray triggerfish both have individual bag limits, so you can’t keep more than 1 gray triggerfish and 10 vermilion snapper in a day. If you catch your limit of 10 vermilion and one gray triggerfish, that would leave the ability to harvest nine more fish to complete the 20fish per person combined total. Also, since the other reef fish species, like hogfish and greater amberjack, are not part of the reef fish aggregate, you could retain your bag limit of those species in addition to the 20-reef fish in the aggregate.

Fishing for Grouper: You can keep a combined total of 4 grouper species in the aggregate. Gag and red grouper also have individual bag limits, while speckled hind and warsaw have a vessel limit. All anglers on the vessel would be able to fish for their individual aggregate bag limit of 4 grouper per person, but only one speckled hind and one warsaw would be allowed on the vessel.

Fishing for Jacks:  You can keep a combined total of 5 banded rudderfish and lesser amberjack. You may harvest and possess any combination of those two species. Greater amberjack and almaco jack are not part of the jack aggregate and are managed with their own individual bag limits. Since greater amberjack is not part of the 5-fish aggregate and almaco jack is part of the 20-reef fish aggregate, you would be able to retain one greater amberjack, up to 20 almaco jacks, and a combination of 5 banded rudderfish or lesser amberjack.

While aggregate bag limits can be somewhat confusing, they ultimately allow more freedom in what you catch. They allow you to mix and match your way to a full cooler. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at [email protected]